Remote Ready Biology Learning Activities has 50 remote-ready activities, which work for either your classroom or remote teaching.
An ongoing conversation on brain and behavior, associated with Biology 202, spring, 1998, at Bryn Mawr College. Student responses to weekly lecture/discussions and topics.
It was asserted in class that "the brain is behavior ... there isn't anything else". If you are (appropriately) skeptical about this assertion, describe what aspects of behavior (including human experience) you think will not be accountable for in terms of the organization and function of the nervous system, and explain why. If you are (equally appropriately) inclined to agree with the assertion, describe what aspects of behavior (including human experience) you think will be most difficult to make sense of in terms of the organization and function of the nervous system, and suggest how these might most usefully be explored.
Nice issue. We'll talk later in the course about why people find it easier to do things at some times than at others ... and about why different kinds of music might have different effects. Issue is "brain processing equally", and is similar to "each has a similar structured brain and nervous system". Things are sort of the the same, and that's important ... but they are also sort of different, and that's equally important. PG
Fine, that makes sense. So what about dreams? Well, the brain again is taking experiences from our environment, or signals from our body, and causing thoughts in our unconscious being. If you're anxious about an upcoming exam, of course your brain will relay that thought as a dream (or a nightmare!)
Some can even argue that intuition is the means to assess the subconscious thoughts from the environment, and the brain, I believe is perfectly capable of that...
But there's still a little part of me that needs convincing. There's a part of me that believes in supernatural phenomena that sometimes doesn't seem to be explicable by science, or the phrase "brain = behavior". Example: If thinking is a behavior, are not psychic thoughts behaviors? How can the brain "know" something that can happen many years into the future if there is no environmental contact to spur these thoughts? If you choose to believe in the psychic realm, how can the Book of Psalms accurately predict the comings of the 20th century? The prophets' behaviors were simply thinking, or dreaming, or listening to a revelation of some sort. But did these visions come from their brains? Did Nostradamus' brain concoct his prophecies?
I believe that the brain is capable of many things - I can fathom the ability to have memory, imagination, reflexes... the miracle of life is amazing itself - if life can exist, why can't the brain do all the things I've just mentioned? But assuming the time-space continuum as valid... how can the brain itself equal all possible behaviors?
Hmmmmmm. The "supernatural" an interesting issue. To talk about, in some form. Issue, of course, is whether it exists in some lawful (observable) form, in which case, as you say, maybe it too can be accounted for in terms of brain function? Gets still more interesting since, as we'll see, "observable" itself probably means creating changes in brain (or, equally important, reflecting changes in the brain which it itself brings about). Dreams necessarily experiences from the environment or the body? And is it really so easy, even as a science major, to imagine quirks and actions as colliding molecules? PG
Name: Ruth Czarnecki
Subject: Brain Is Behavior
Date: Sat Jan 24 18:04:22 EST 1998
I am inclined to believe that brain is behavior for a few reasons. First, and probably most convincing, is the fact that it is only through the brain that one has the concepts of behaviors such as running, crying, loving, etc. It is the brain which "orders" the rest of the body to perform various behaviors. Second, is that with the advanced brain of the human, the behaviors that in class were debated upon (such as loving, sympathizing) are all created. As the brain developed, so did these behaviors. Certaintly dogs and bees and apes have some of the same intangible behaviors as humans, such as motherly love, but no one will argue that they have behaviors in these realms as advanced as our own. Even if they do have emotions as advanced as ours, they are not observable with any technique known to us. These differences can be explained by brain size and development.
Human behavior, all human behavior, can be explained as a construct of the brain. One can make two interpretations of this; either the brain is a biological foreman, ordering behaviors to be done, or, more convincing, the brain is the collection of these behaviors, making them observable to the outside world through the body.
There are almost no behaviors that i can think of that are not associated with the brain. There is only one so far, fetal heartbeats. The heart of the fetus begins to beat before it is ever connected with any part of the nervous system. After development has proceeded further, the heartbeat then becomes dependant on nervous system activity. However, there is still no explanation in my mind for why this happens.
Is good point, and one we'll return to. Hearts can indeed beat independently of the nervous system. So it isn't strictly true that the brain "orders" all behavior. Maybe better to say that behavior is interaction of brain and rest of body? How does your thoughts about dogs/bees connect to this?
Now, I must make a clear distinction between the human perception of the soul and its existence. These are, quite obviously, two different things that do not have the same pull in the brain=behavior argument. Indeed, our perception of the soul, what we think it looks like, where we think it goes, and how we think it "behaves" is entirely a function of our nervous system. Its actual existence or non-existence and how it truly does "behave" is entirely outside of our realm of understanding. How could anyone disprove its existence and behaviors? Since we cannot disprove it, how can we believe that its existence and functioning is governed by our brains? I am not saying that the soul exists. If it does, though, you are not ever going to know it. So, how is it a function of the brain?
Crackpots? Who's a crackpot? Anyone seen any crackpots around here? More than happy to concede the non-proveability of the absence of a "soul". Issue is instead the usefulness of that concept (or any other concept) in "making sense of the world". And, as you say, what we think of "soul" (or any other concept) is (probably?) a function of the nervous system. So maybe it too (and any other concept) exists only insofar as nervous systems conceive them? Which side of the line would that be on? PG
I think that for many human behaviors the brain must be given credit, but there are a few behaviors or behavioral traits that seem to originate from an area periforal to the brain.
Although it can be argued that the brain is the control center for all behavior, there are also many other factors that need to be taken into consideration. For example, habits that people develop come from outside sources such as parents telling you what to do, what is learned in school and in the workplace, and other societal influences. These are things that we learn from the environment around us and therefore cannot be attributed to chemical activity levels in the brain. Along this same line, culture is cannot be considered innate to the brain. For instance, a person may have a father who works in the army and is forced to moves from country to country. That person will develop a sense of each culture as he or she spends their time there. This is something that we cannot attribute to the brain. Culture is an aspect of life that is learned through both family, society and the environment in which that society exists.
There are also chemical reactions that take place in the body that can trigger the brain to perform certain preordained actions. The spontaneous fight or flight reactions can, and will, run purely on a chemical rush of adrenaline. There are phenomena that seem to have no chemical rationale in the brain and therefore, I feel, we must attribute certain behaviors to factors other than the brain.
Interesting. To talk more about. Indeed, behavior can be affected by things going on in the body (such as adrenaline release), but much of that reflects effects of adrenaline on the brain. Similarly, culture certainly affects human behavior, but arguably (as we'll see) it does so by causing changes in the brain. To put it differently, the brain isn't a stable thing which one can add to culture to account for behavior. Instead, or at least arguably, the brain is behavior, and hence, like behavior, it is influenced by culture? PG
I think I can accept the assertion that brain equals behavior, although I do not yet have the necessary knowledge to explain exactly why. It makes sense, though, since everything ultimately breaks down into molecules and atoms, that anything we do derives from interactions between these basic elements. That is not to say that I am entirely comfortable.
I think the hardest thing to accept, and the one which makes a part of me rebel, is the notion that outside of our brains and these interactions at various levels and scales, there is no self, no "me," no individual. That is something to which many, and I, too, cling dearly to in the face of such a statement. To think that I am nothing but a lot of cells, molecules, atoms interacting with each other seems to rob me of all personal value, everything I love about myself, and I get this image of an automaton, robotic, mechanic.
And yet...I think that's where I'm going wrong. To say that phenomena such as feelings, personal quirks, etc., are products of the elements which constitute all life doesn't have to rob it of its beauty. No matter what I learn, I still FEEL like my "own person". Perhaps saying that Brain=Soul/Personality/whatever means that our brain is responsible for creating the concept of a soul/life-force/spirit/self. With which statement I can agree. However, it doesn't have to exclude the possibility of the existence of "something more". After all, we don't know what started it all, right?
Hmmmmm (see response to Allison, above). Brain is BOTH creator of AND responder to culture? Yeah, probably. And nice working through of concerns about where self might or might not come from. If brain=behavior, we are going to have to account for individuality, for not being an "automaton", and for the FEELING of being oneself. The first two aren't so hard, actually, and we'll try and make some sense at least of the third as well. PG
it's been three weeks.... time has passed and my grandmother is now dead. she died in my mother's arms - at age 90. by all accounts, it was as "good as it could be" - she died peacefully in her sleep with candles lit around her and surrounded by my mother's loving arms. was she saying my mother's name? could she recall who where or what she was? was it like a deep sleep or a sudden jarring desperate plea for life - a gulp of air - a precious morsel that diminshed and all but dissappeared... until it was no longer there and all that was left was my mother and her glass of red wine. was there a priest and prayers? was she warm for a while or did she become icy cold as my mother held her? what was in her eyes as she looked up at the ceiling - thoughts of nights cross country skiing, raspberries and waffles, sourcream pudding and feeling so good as it warms you, trips to the cabin in the north and fleeing the nazi's in the south? what was in her eyes when she closed them for the last time?
"why is a measure of love loss?" (winterson) when do we become conscious of our own emotions and when do we heed to compassion in the way of mercy? if my brain could dictate to me what to think and why to think it, i might be a better individual... stronger and wiser for it. but my brain is beholden to my heart and i am left to ponder the why's and wherefore's as my grandmother lies deep under the mountains of norway and my healing begins.
It is very much the human experience of life which (among other things) needs to be accounted for. Thanks for sharing yours. And yes, of course, among the things experienced is "My head tells me ..., but my heart tells me otherwise". The big question is not whether the romantics effectively described such feelings in a way one can recognize but rather whether the organization and function of the brain is such as to be able to make sense of them. Maybe the brain is actually big enough to include both logic and emotion? As Emily Dickinson wrote "The Brain -- is wider than the sky ...". While looking for that, I also found this: "I felt a funeral in my brain,/ and mourners to and fro, kept treading ...". Compassion and rationality needn't contend; they might even be perceived as allies. PG
Actually, I don't think its dull. I think its important, since it gives us a somewhat more reliable (and hence satisfying) basis for believing that people don't disappear when they die. And that's important (see above). Question, of course, is why have so many (though not all) religious and spiritual traditions contended that there is something relatively tangible that can occupy or leave the body ... and on what basis, for what reasons, might one want to hold a different view? PG
Everything has to come from something so why can't the brain be that something? I know that it is "dehumanizing" and very uncomfortable to think that the only reason we have a sense of individuality is due to some atoms bonding together or a charge transfer but our ability to think and function comes from these chemical interactions in the brain.
I think the hardest thing to explain using the brain = behavior equation is the disbelief in its accuracy and the controversy this idea creates. It is clear that most people find it unpleasant to give the brain all the credit. As mentioned in one of the responses above, it is so easy to believe that the brain is the control center for talking, eating, biting, heart rate, etc. but why can't the notion of self and the soul be included comfortably in this list? If the brain is behavior, why has it created this overpowering need to find a larger more spiritual explanation for its innerworkings? The heart pumps blood, the stomach digests food, why can't the Brain be responsible for the soul?
If its really that easy, how come everyone doesn't share your conviction (and how come no one has mixed molecules to make a living organism)? The ideal, of course, is not simply to be a "science person" but to be able to account for the basis of one's perspective, and to be able to convey it to others so that some still broader perspective can be achieved. Yes, I think the presumption of "dehumanization" is part of the problem. Let's see whether people still think "brain=behavior" is dehumanizing at the end of the course. Depends a lot, of course, on the details of what we mean by/understand about the brain.
But how do you explain phenomenons such as psychic abilities (if you chose to believe in it) or premonitions? I'm sure most of us have heard stories of mothers having a bad premonition or hunch that their child is in danger. This instinctual mother-child bond can be observed in most animals, so it's not to say that this behavior can be seen in only intellectually complex organisms. But how do we explain this behavior? How does the brain know that something terrible is going to happen if all it is made up of are neurons and various neurotrasmitters?
Maybe it's because a part of me would like to think that I'm a little more than just my brain. Sure it's responsible for my behavior and it is a large part of who I am or make myself to be, but it just makes life more interesting to believe that I am amde up of more than just chemicals.
By the way, there is an interesting special report this week's Newsweek magazine, titled "Are We All A Little Crazy?". I think it's worth checking out.
Psychic abilities a seriously interesting question, more or less along lines of "supernatural" (see above). Different people do seem to have different abilities to predict future events, and any given person under some circumstances suprises him or herself that way. The issue is whether that reflects unusual sensitivity to the causal factors that influence future events or a genuine signal from the future to the past. The latter, if it could be demonstrated, would be a substantial challenge to current understandings far beyond the brain=behavior issue. Most of physics, among other things, would have to be rethought. I agree that its not very interesting to think of oneself as a bunch of chemicals, if the image is of a bunch of bottles on a shelf. But how about if one thinks of oneself as an enormously complicated and unique bunch of chemicals, put together in such a way as to have a personality, a will, emotions ... and so forth? PG
I begin by asserting that without the brain, a human being can participate in no conscious or unconscious actions or behavior. A person may still be "alive" simply because he or she is being kept alive by artificial means, but in every other sense of the word, this person is dead. I believe they no longer can think, feel, or respond to the stimuli around them.
However, there is much more to behavior than simply thinking, feeling and responding. Laughing, crying, speaking, walking, sleeping and eating are also examples of conscious behavior. Breathing and dreaming are also examples of unconscious behavior. But, once again I assert that without a brain, these things would not occur.
But there is one mode of thought that I have not resolved in my own mind at this point. If it is true, as I believe, that the brain is behavior, then I am also saying that there are no other influences upon behavior than the brain. I do not know if I completely agree with this statment or not.
What about the role and influence that society has upon my behavior? How do my Christian religious beliefs play a part in my everyday actions? I know that these two things have a definite effect on the way that I think, feel and respond and even the way that I dream!
However, I CAN believe that although I may be influenced by these things, it is ultimately up to me and my brain ALONE that allows me to have the freedom to make my own conscious choices about my behavior, but what about my unconscious actions? What role do these things play in that area of behavior? For this question, I have no answer!
The conscious/unconscious distinction is an important one, but not one, we've suggested with the "I-function" notion, that distinguished between the brain and other things (they are both aspects of brain function). As for society? That clearly affects behavior, which, on the brain=behavior argument, means it affects the brain. We'll talk about evidence that this is in fact so. Not quite "no other influences on behavior than the brain", but rather everything which influences behavior influences the brain (since they're the same)? PG
this duality is a short cut we use when trying to propose the role of our brain in our behavior. this short cut is that there are two frames of reference within our system of self.
what are these frames of reference? one is the concrete, visually observable one. that our brain consists of cells, weighs somthing, and when mutilated altered behaviors precipatate.
but without the second frame this first one cannot exist. the second relies on the historical, the societal, the internal context of the organism, the concept of thought.
brain allows thought and observation. without these we would not know that our selves and surroundings existed. we would not know behavior. behavior would not be without the brain.
That is all for now, me and my brain need to think about this some more. can the brain think about itself? is this what we are all doing?
thank you for reading, jeremy
Nice issues, question. Can the brain think about itself? Of course. And when it does ... ? In general, brain activity causes changes in the brain, so the thinking changes the thing doing the thinking? Yes, the bottom line question is indeed is there a "me" distinct from my brain, or does that historically useful duality in fact collapse?
Each of us is a different person. Why? Human beings look roughly the same(1 head, 4 limbs etc.)and function in the same ways. We are all different because each of us has our own personality, and on top of these many personality possibilities, each of us has had our own experiences that have interacted with these personalities in varied ways. You can imagine the endless possibilities of combinations. This is what makes each one of us an individual. Where does the current model allow for the effects of identity on the manufacture of behavior? Identity, how you perceive your ideas and beliefs, how you perceive others feelings about you, is essential to the brains' incorporation of behavior. It effects which stimuli (inputs) you listen to, and which behaviors (outputs) you are willing to perform.
To return to my example of a political debate, it's easy to understand how the brain and its neurons are responsible for the comprehension of the spoken word. With an addition to out model, it might become easier to understand the complex processes involved when neurons produce words that berate a political activist (on any issue that the owner of the neurons feels strongly about).
Interesting issue. If there are billions of interconnected neurons, and they are organized sort of the same but sort of different in each person, then we have individuals, right? But then why are you worrying about "effects of identity on the manufacture of behavior"? If behavior is the expression of those interconnected neurons, and the particular organization constitutes individuality/identity, then it follows automatically that behavior expresses identity, no? PG
1. I would feel much more comfortable in saying that the CNS, not the brain alone, is behavior, because if one does not include the spinal cord in the discussion, strange questions about the reflex arc are likely to arise.
2. Religion can also make such a statement a bit tenuous. As a person who is religious, my view is that although God can play an active role in my life, if he is to do so, he'll probably go through my brain in a sort of passive-aggressive fashion...you know, that whole fruit of knowledge bit and how we have the right to make our own decisions. Sounds sort of roundabout and bizarre, I know, but no more so than, say, the book of Revelation.
3. Thus, I would say that, yes, the brain is the filter of my reality. Moreover, it is as dynamic as my reality is ever-changing. It gives me the power to behave or not as is my will, and it is my will also. So, yes, the brain (CNS) must be behavior...and nothing else.
Likely the idea that the brain "is as dynamic as my reality is ever-changing". Makes sense. And yes, need to include spinal cord. And "able to make own decisions". Interesting question, of course, is where that comes from, what it means. Will talk more about that as we go.
Considering that humans conduct themselves differently than apes, which in turn act differently form all sorts of other animals, which again evidence different conduct from others, etc, and considering the difference in brain structure and comlexity, it seems fair to assume that behavior is mediated form the brain.
Shakespeare, or possible some other great and long gone mind, wrote "Where is it that passion's bred, in the heart or in the head" (or at least something resembling this remotly. The answer seems to be brain. Afterall, for decades now doctors have transplanted hearts without ever having altered the character or behavior of patients, or without ever having entertained the fear that the receiver of the organ would come to be like the donor of it. However, the prospect of brain transplantation (I cannot recall the name of the man attempting to do this) is a highly controversial topic, mainly because of the transfer of one man's being into anothers body.
These ethical concerns aside, however, if the brain was not the seat of behavior, where else would behavior be mediated form? The sense receptors all conect to the brain, the brain mediates the bodily functions down to the most cellular level, it coordinates action and reaction, and it does in fact so many other things, that the mere attempt of setting up an inventory would be doomed to fail. Thinking back to class, where a definition of behavior was put on the board, I must say that I failed to entertain the need to box a single one of the items on the board, because I could imagine the role the brain played in them. Considering, for instance, the case of Gage presented in the textbook, his soul or spirit seemed to have been altered by the accident, hence even these abstract concept have a harbor in the brain.
Gage and cases like that are indeed an important part of the "trend of the evidence" suggesting that even the most abstract aspects of human behavior and experience involve the brain. Remember, though, that others in the past, and still today, are less certain than you about "intuitive correctness". I agree that no one worries about behavior being transferred along with a heart, but there are some changes in behavior typically associated with heart transplants (as well as with other procedures that don't directly affect the brain), so ... ? PG
It is irrefutable that we are indeed not the same person we were yesterday, or the person that we were as children. It is irrefutable that we are constantly in a state of learning. It is irrefutable to make the statement that because we are always learning, we are always changing. It is irrefutable that our brains, then, are also constantly changing. Since all of this must be true, then I find myself faced with yet another chicken vs. egg predicament. Is it because our brains are changing/growing that our behavior changes? Or does our behavior change as we learn new things and then, subsequently, our brains adapt to our new behaviors?
I think it is safe to say that behavior and our brains are intrinsically linked. Not only does our body physically react to our mental and environmental predicaments, but also it is the source of our thoughts, our emotions, our actions---yes, all of our behavior. However, I think that that is all the brain is--the source. I am not ready to believe that the brain is anything more than a wonderful, gigantic, mysterious and beautiful filing cabinet and personal secretary system. While I don't want to risk entering into a theological debate, I'm not ready to accept that all that I feel, all that I am, all the feelings that enter into this corporal being, all that I consider to be part of my soul and being, is the direct result of a chance collection of atoms, elements, and electricity. I am prepared to listen and be convinced. It could emerge to be a debate over semantics--the definition of the brain; whether the "brain" is analogous the "the soul," and what we think of as "the brain"(that is, this collection of compounds and slimey cytoplasm) is actually something else that could be given a different name. However, as it stands at this moment, while logically my brain(hee hee hee) is telling me that it is feasible that brain = behavior, I'm sticking with my gut feeling and saying that this hypothesis is not true.
Hmmmmm. You actually think that if brain=behavior we would all stop having fun? Seems to me the alternative construal is that dour neurobiologists would have to acknowledge that playing (and other uninhibited behaviors) "is not purely entertainment or a luxury to be given up when things get serious ... playfulness is ... not only to be enjoyed but to be accorded high value for its fundamental role in the success of all organisms, including humans" (some neurobiologists might even enthusiastically embrace this construal). Yes, changing all the time. And yes, I hope you're persuaded by the end of the semester, much more than a "filing cabinet and personal filing system". We'll see.
Now we added some very wide reaching words to the board when we tried to state what behavior was. The soul being the most obvious example. Most people do not want to believe that they are nothing but a lucky accident. If you are to believe that all of our thoughts on religion and our place in the universe is nothing more than a "figment of our imagination," then there is nothing special about our development. We are another species that has made it into dominance, and like the species before us will eventually find something we can't adapt to and die out. Maybe the cockroaches really will inherit the earth? There is something in us that fights that notion. As was said before, we want that sense of self, that sense of being that transcends the physical world. You can't scientifically study that, not under the rules of scientific investigation which exist right now. I make no claim to have the answer, none of us really do, but this debate reminded me a of a poem entitled the Conqueror Worm by Edgar Allan Poe. If when all the neurons in my brain cease to fire, I cease to "be," then Poe was right,
That the play is the tragedy "Man,"
And its hero the Conqueror Worm.
Have you read any Loren Eiseley? As, for example, "I am a man who regrets the loss of his fur and his tail" or "only one living creature has succeeded in escaping the trap of specialization that has led in time to so much death and wasted endeavor. It is man, but the word should be uttered softly, for his story is not yet done". Not everyone is disinclined to see themselves as part of a larger biological/physical world (though I agree that some are). PG
Sounds alright to me. Really that straightforward for you? No questions/uncertainties? Nothing more needed even to persuade others?
On a lighter level, the second area that would be interesting to explore is cosmology and astrology. I am not speaking about the tabloid versions as to when the world will end, but rather behavior patterns accorded to people in deferrence to under which sign they were born. While I am not an avid believer in consulting a psychic for each and every decision, or any of them for that matter, but the overall view that personalities are influenced by the time of year that the person is born is difficult to disprove.
Certainly have no wish to annoy anyone, nor to "portray", but only to go on "trying to make sense of". The brain certainly can influence the (rest of) the body, even in "damaging" ways. Whether that is the most sensible explanation in the particular kinds of cases you mention is, so far as I know, an open question. And it does not, as you say, speak to the nature of the "spiritual aspect of the experience", which is a second question. One can certainly also imagine ways in which the time of year one is born might be an influence on one's brain=behavior. Again, whether that accounts for experiences with astrologers is an open question. PG
A number of interesting issues/assertions, though I'm not sure I'm entirely following how they all relate to one another. Why do you speak of the soul as "the real backbone of life". I think there is indeed a sense in which all life "is trying to figure out why you exist", but I don't understand quite how it follows from this that "brain=behavior" is "insufficient".
Why do you think this way about it? Clearly, its not inevitable, given that others of your classmates think differently about it?
But then what do we do with the fact that cultures exist that do not believe in the concept of a self? Cultures that only acknowledge the concept of a soul so that individuals can work to transcend this notion in search for higher meaning. Many of us seek a sense of individuality and meaning by clinging to the notion of a self. But the concept of a soul is itself constructed, or at least partially processed, by the brain. In many ways this makes the "what about the self" argument less of a hurdle. So as someone stated, everything has to come from somewhere, so why not the brain? I clearly have more thinking to do...
Fair enough. Thinking is a good thing. Hope we will at least persuade you that the brain is more than "a warehouse or rest step for everything that affects our behavior". In the meanwhile, one could do worse than thinking about how different cultures do and don't emphasize the concept of a self. PG
Yeah, me too. Wonder why that's true for some people, not others? Or, in my terms, I wonder what the brain differences are, and how they come about. On the other hand, maybe they know/have experienced something we don't/haven't?
A reflex, such as blinking is involuntary and isn't even registered by the brain. So even though the brain isn't directing the eyelid to open and close, the eyelid is able to move on its own. Involuntary movements like blinking and pain withdrawal reflex are behaviors of the body and independent of the NS.
Certain behaviors are the direct result of hormones which have stimulated the body. During menstruation, estrogens prepare the female body for impregnation and then automatically shut themselves off through negative feedback.
Reflexes and hormonal responses are the only behaviors that I came up with that take place regardless of the brain's activities. What else is not a brain behavior? What happens when a man is in a coma? Can we have sensation in the absence of perception? With the answers to these and many questions, we would be able to determine the existence of the mind in the brain, which could be responsible for emotions, creativity, reasoning, and self-awareness. Even though many questions are still unanswered, we do know that the brain is responsible for regulation and control of some bodily activities, the receiving and interpreting of sensory impulses and the exercise of expression.
Interesting approach. Yes, there are things the body does/can do without the nervous system. And menstrual cycles are one of them. "Reflexes" (a term I don't like, for reasons we'll get to) aren't, though, in general. Eye-blinking, for example, is very much a consequence of nervous system activity, even though one isn't normally aware of it (and hence it doesn't involve WHAT part of the nervous system?). We'll talk much more about sensation (and other things) in absence of "perception"). They don't in general show lack of involvement of the nervous system in behavior. PG
For one, how exactly is the brain supposed to account for the many actions that we perform in a single day, let alone in a lifetime? How does instinct play into this? Why do we often do things that our brains seem to tell us not to do? Does free-will play some sort of role in this brain/behavior issue? Though we do not consciously decide to breath, make our hearts work, or our organs function and usually do not cause these systems to function by thinking, signals are sent from our brains throughout our bodies to engage us in these actions. Is the way our brain functions and thinking the same and how does this relate to our actions? Do our memories change? How does this affect behavior? Where are our memories stored? How does personality affect our behavior? What exactly is "personality" and is it created by the brain and our behavior? If so, how?
I cannot even begin to answer these questions, but they came to my mind, while I thought about the weekely question and I thought they might be interesting to post.
Questions are, of course, as good as answers, when they give directions for futher exploration, and these do. We'll talk about at least a reasonable subset of them. If the nervous system is a lot of interconnected boxes sending signals to one another (as we talked about) and action is a complicated pattern of signals from motoneurons, what more would we need for "free will"? Can you imagine what would constitute memory "storage" or "personality"? Are you sure "we" do things other than what our brain does? Is there an "us" to do things that "our brain seem to tell us not to do"? What does the example of the paraplegic tell us about what "us" might be? PG
I simply do not feel that anything outside of the brain could control any behavior. I strongly believe that the brain is this amazing organ that we possess that can perform many functions. One of the brain's functions I believe to be important in our behavior is learning. The brain learns from past experiences.
How about outside influences? Even if the brain is conditioned to do something from the environment, it is learning to perform that function, regardless of being good or bad, and thus still controls behavior. How about parasitic invaders, evil spirits, and aliens from outer space? Well, if something does physically enter the brain, it alters its performance. This cascades into many effects. It is not the parasite, spirit, or alien that is controlling the different behavior. It is still the brain controlling the behavior, but differently. The outside force does not have a direct link to our behaviors. The brain is linked to our actions. It is a chain of events: the parasite, spirit, or alien alters the brain chemically. Then, the brain performs the new behavior.
Therefore, it would still be a direct link between brain and behavior. This is where psychology may get involved, but I am not sure since it is not my field of study. Anyhow, next time, if you're upset with someone's behavior, you're also really upset with their brain--it's the root of it all.
That's the argument alright. And an interesting extension: whatever influences behavior (be it spirits or experience or culture) does so by alterations of the nervous system. Now, how come you are inclined to believe it, when others aren't? Got something persuasive that others could learn from/respond to? PG
Some interesting and subtle issues. By brain, I meant the whole nervous system (PNS included). But there is a an important reality to "behavior" affects the brain. I'd be inclined though to argue that "behavior is the interaction between a nervous system and its surroundings". In this sense, there is indeed something more than the nervous system to behavior (a body, a physical environment outside the body, other brains), and there is certainly a reciprocal pattern of influences, but the nervous system is engaged in all of it. That alright? PG
Another example of why there is nothing outside the brain deals with the subject of aleins. The "existence of aliens" will not be confirmed until everyone on earth sees extraterrestrials and can input that information into their brains. But until then, they will only "exist" for those who are able to have collected information from their senses (hearing, seeing, touching, smelling, ect). And by the way, if we stick to the tree theory, it is safe to conclude that believers and non-believers of aliens all really do allow for the existence of extraterrestrials because they exist inside our heads. And along with supernatural phenomenon, aliens are (if anything) a product of our brains which created them from feelings (also governed by the brain) of fear and loneliness and from our many definitions of self.
The only problem that I have with the theory that there is nothing outside the brain is the indication that there is no existance outside the living world. For example, without multi-cellular organisms (who have "nervous systems") or even outside one-celled organisms, there would still be an earth and a sun and the universe....all that does not depend on the existence of the nervous system. How do we know this? Well, because we have a theory that proved that the earth existed before the physical brain. But then again, to complicate this notion a bit more, how would we have know of the existence of a world without living organisms if we didn't have brains??? And I suppose that proves why there is nothing really without the processes of the brain ( because of my brain the keyboard that I am typing on exists and without my brain, it would cease to exist!).
Interesting, subtle thoughts. The bottom line question, of course, is how do we "know" there is anything out there at all? And that's a GOOD question, one well worth thinking seriously about, one we'll come back to in the course. Any thoughts about it? I think there is actually, in how the nervous system works, a way to understand where our belief in things outside our nervous systems comes from, and how reliable it is. PG
I pretty much agree with the assertion that the brain/ CNS is principally responsible for all behavior. I know the brain=behavior hypothesis is a broad, blanketing statement to make, however, I find it hard to believe that there isn't a behavior, internal or external, out there that doesn't fire off something in the central nervous system...More interestingly, what is happening within these firings of neurons in the brain-body? Can every behavior/action be explained by neuro-physiological events? With such new technologies as MRIs, CTs,etc can we identify the "conversations" between neurons? I've heard of studies which prove that handedness and gender are linked to differences in size in certain parts of brain size...how much can we really tell about behavior/psychology from physiology? Once we pinpoint locations of neuronal activity what does this actually tell us about this behavior?
The brain=behavior hypothesis assumes a connection between the mind and body, hence, the mental and physical worlds. How much of what we experience is constructed by the mind, though? As much as I'd like believe that we have complete rational control over our fates, I can't help thinking there isn't something beyond the mind which would explain the metaphysical. Out of the behaviors list brainstormed in class, the only example I had a problems with associating with the brain is the soul. Is the soul a product of the mind? Let the mystery be...
What makes you think the brain (nervous system) is "rational"? And supposing you and your friend COULD have sent messages to one another, would that have disproven the brain=behavior idea? Yes, new technologies are certainly increasing the sense that there are neurophysiological correlates for everything one does/is. But can they "prove" this? PG
The premise of the theory of holism is that analysis of a whole can be accomplished by breaking up that whole into discrete elements. After these discrete elements are understood in all their minutiae they can then be added back together, like puzzle pieces, to create a more fully understood and brilliantly clear picture of the original whole. This activity is seemingly what this class will be all about this spring.
Now, I grant that this philosophy of learning can reap great rewards. However, when we assert that human behavior has everything to do with the brain, and we intend to understand said behavior by understanding the workings of the brain in all its minutiae, we are missing something fundamental. We overlook the possibility that the origins of human behavior are indeed greater than their constituent biological and chemical parts.
I have read through the comments of my classmates and it is refreshing to see such a diverse range of thought on the subject. One idea that is often iterated has captured my attention in particular. That is the suggestion that it is not so ridiculous to think that humans might indeed possess a soul. That is to say, there might be a source of our behavior, a fundamental element of our personality that transcends the biological and chemical engine that processes input (external or otherwise). There might be an intangible essence that exists as a consequence of consciousness but is something other than, more than, the discrete elements that constitute the function of our brain.
I would like to think that there is a 'me'. If this is delusional, then I suppose I am happy with that illusion. Till next week - be good all... -D.
So are we all, to varying degrees (shooting from the hip). Why the anonymity? Yep, a refreshing diverse range of thought. And yes, there might be an "intangible essence" in addition to all those neurons. And yes, there certainly is a "me". And yes, indeed, the inquiry is can that (and other intangible essences) be usefully (more usefully?) understood as an emergent property of a lot of interacting parts none of which themselves display the "intangible essences". We'll see, huh? PG
It seems that the only conclusive way to look at behavior without consideration to the nervous system is to try to observe behavior in something that doesn't have one. This seems like an impossible task. The only way I can think of to do this is to look outside the animal kingdom, since even anencephalic babies have spinal cords... So, looking outside the animal kingdom, are there behaviors? Is a Venus Flytrap eating a bug exhibiting behavior? It seems like it, but I would imagine that that "behavior" could be broken down to chemical reactions, which leaves us right where we started.
Even in considering the possibility of psychic powers or astrology or the soul, the role of the brain can't be ignored. Assuming that psychics somehow receive information about the future, that information is still received somehow, processed, and then presumably acted upon during infomercials or telephone consultations or what-have-you, the same way that any other information is received, processed, and acted upon- with the brain.
This topic seems to make a lot of people uncomfortable, in some cases due to a sense of lost identity because all the things that make an individual who they are is presumably controlled by a chemical or electrical impulse in the brain. But, just because these processes are so mechanical doesn't take away from the individuality of the individual. The ways in which the neurons are situated, where the synapses lie, those details are what may vary from person to person, and maybe that is where our individuality comes from. Which doesn't seem quite so hard to swallow.
Thanks for the picture, which helps to make a point some of your colleagues have alluded to above. And yes, "not so hard to swallow" for some people (even pleasing to some). But, equally obviously, not for all. Maybe its the "mechanical"? Any idea how one can get from "mechanical" to the ineffably non-mechanical which most people seem to be, and certainly would prefer to think they are? Or do you think that's a delusion? PG
Although I don't know much of the specifics yet it seems that the greatest evidence that the braiin (or entire NS) is responsible for behavior is that when the brain of an organism is damaged or changed through accident or disease, the organism's behavior changes, like the example of Phineas Gage in the textbook. Chemical substances that affect the NS also affect behavior (as any one who's been to a wild party knows!). Also, once the brain is destroyed, the organism ceases to function at all, it dies.
I don't think that saying the brain is behavior takes away from the individuality of people or other organisms. Since the brain is so sensitive to chemical stimulation and change, and each individual will have both a unique genetic code and a unique personal history that will lead to having a unique brain as well, that would lead to a unique set of behaviors that would constitute the personality of the individual.
A vexing question still remains, however. Many people have expresed the concern that saying that "the brain IS behavior" would lead to a denial of the concept of a soul/spirit. Well, it's very easy to say that the belief of having a soul is a delusion, get over it. But as ensoulment has long been regarded as conditional for a human being to qualify as a "person", in the legal, social sense, the question is relevant.
Making the brain the be-all and end-all of behavior and personality also seems to carry the risk that people with "inferior" brains will be seen as "inferior" people as well. Instead of the belief that all human beings have inherent worth. Also, people could deny personal responsibility for their actions by claiming "the brain made me do it", though maybe this is not much different from people in older times saying "the devil made me do it".
I personally think that a soul can exist even if "the brain IS behavior". It is very difficult to prove a negative. Just because a "soul" cannot be detected using scientific means does not mean one does not exist. We cannot know the position and direction of a subatomic particle at the same time, but a particle does have both at every moment in time. So I think a person can exist both as a physical being detectable by scientific method and as a spiritual being, on a higher plane.
Nice handling of the uniqueness problem. Be a little careful on effects of brain destruction though. Lots of parts of an organism can do perfectly well without a brain. Yes, indeed, given legal/social consideration, a "soul" is not so easily given up as a reality. And one does risk "superior/inferior", and denial of personal responsibility, though, as you say, not necessarily any more than has occurred using other concepts of behavior. Maybe brain=behavior could do BETTER at promoting diversity, sense of personal responsibility? That would be a nice outcome. PG
Name: Jonathan Ball
Subject: The Brain=Behavior Questions
Date: Tue Jan 27 09:59:30 EST 1998
In the Brain=behavior debate I take a route that resides somewhere between seeing the brain as the cause of all behavior and having and outside force affecting human behavior. I believe that looking for the causes of all human behavior just in terms of the brain and the central nervous system is too narrow a focus to ever be successful. I believe that this tight focus on the nervous systems cause stimulus and response connections to get lost, leaving us wondering about responses that seem to have no eliciting stimuli. To get the full understanding of behavior I believe that the focus needs to be pulled back further, or to use the analogy from class, I think we need to draw a much large box, one that includes not only the nervous systems but past and present environmental contingencies. This is the approach advocated by Arthur Bentley in his paper the "The Human Skin: Philosophy's Last Line of Defense" in which he argued for the study of behavior in terms of "behavioral superfice" which is "the boundaries of any area in which organism-environment adjustments of the behavioral type are in progress". I believe that through study associations between external and internal stimuli and responses a much clearer understanding of human behavior can achieved. This view assigns the brain a mediating role in behavior instead of the causal role put forward in class.
One of the most difficult characteristics of human behavior to understand and but into terms of the nervous system is individual difference between people from major differences like personality traits to smaller ones like preferring different flavors of ice cream. Even though the are an almost infinite number of genetic combinations possible during the formation of a human being it is hard to believe that there are genes devoted to liking vanilla ice-cream instead of chocolate. It is in the development of individual differences that I believe studying the environment has the most benefits in understanding human behavior; no two humans ever experience the same set of external and internal stimuli in the same combination or order, therefore no two people will ever be identical. What makes us different from everyone else and even from who we were yesterday is not a major difference in our brain but rather the sum total of contingencies which we have experienced and are currently experiencing.
I don't know Bentley's book, but I share some of your sense that it is actually the interaction between the nervous system and its surroundings that constitutes behavior (see some of the commments earlier). At the same time, I'd argue that that state of self at any given time is fully in the nervous system, which is to say that all other "influences" on behavior act through it. And not ALL of them are related to "environmental contingencies", as we'll see. Some have their origin within the nervous system itself. Yes, individual differences needs to be accounted for. Yes, part of that is environmental, but that is an affect on and is represented in the brain. And, to repeat the argument, there would be individual differences even if environmental contingencies were identical. Or at least so the existing evidence suggests, as we'll talk about. PG
At this point in time with my minimal understanding of the nervous system there are things that I find a difficult to attribute to a large amount of "boxes". Behaviors like emotions, complex thoughts, and thoughts that originate in the brain seem so large that even the hundreds of billion of neurons that are present in the nervous system couldn't contain them. I guess that I have a difficult time envisioning images, thoughts, and emotions being stored in a chemical-electrical biological medium. Obviously the computer I'm working on right now is accomplishing an immense amount with just a bunch of off and on switches, but maybe I'm being romantic in hoping that we are more than the ultimate set of off and on switches.
Yeah, there are more than "off and on switches"; brains are fundamentally analogue devices rather than digital ones. But .... still just "boxes"? Behavior in its "purest form" an interesting issue. Several of your colleagues (see previous) have insisted that there must at least be an interaction of the nervous system with a surroundings to get "behavior", and I'm, on at least one level, inclined to agree. On the other hand, the nervous system does continue to "do its thing" in the absence of the body, as we'll talk more about later in the course. PG
Yep, very important to understand that brains change all the time. And very interesting to think about how languages in the brain (one or many) influence behavior. Does it really matter whether different languages or are not "in the same area"? Could be a good starting point for a web project. PG
I do not have any trouble attributing the "behaviors" mentioned in class to brain activity, insofar as the willingness to be wrong is intrinsically part of the endeavor. It seems reasonable to suppose that the activities (running, jumping, eating, sleeping) which cease when neural activity ceases are inter-dependent: there is no running without the command to run, delivered from the nervous system to the muscles.
It also seems reasonable that the brain encompasses some of the more intangible aspects of behavior that were mentioned. Dreaming, certainly, is one example which seems to me not only to be attributable to the brain, but wholly dependent on it. Other activities rely on the interaction of several components; dreaming seems to be one of the few things which the brain does alone. I also think that our portrait of the brain can accommodate most ideas regarding the soul, and I don't believe that such a portrait needs to compromise them in any way. People have felt for centuries that the soul inhabits the body; to then say that the soul specifically inhabits a body made up of atoms and molecules, and that it is regulated by a complex electrochemical matrix subject to diffuse effects (from the release of neurotransmitters to the effects of low blood sugar or no rest), does no harm to our notions of the soul. In other words, the study of neurobiology does nothing to settle an argument between theists and atheists
My problem with the brain = behavior equation is not that aspects of behavior fall outside of what can be described in terms of brain activity. Rather, it is that there seem to be so many aspects of brain activity which have nothing at all to do with behavior in any of the senses discussed in class. I am thinking of such things as phantom pain in amputees; prodigous and "innate" talent (Mozart or Slonimsky for example); or the savant abilities of 10% of the autistic population. While I am deeply curious about the neuronal mechanics of, say, catching a ball, I am also keeping an eye out for any information regarding the activity of the brain that sheds some light on less normative perceptual patterns.
We'll certainly talk about phantom limbs, among other "less normative" perceptual patterns. Many, at least, of them are most interesting because of what they reveal about unexpected ways that the nervous system handles what seems at first glance more obviously explainable. As for the "soul", the interesting question is whether it is more useful to think of it "inhabiting" the brain or "being" the brain? PG
However, popular as well as ancient cultures use the concept of spirit to rationalize incidents that could not be justified if the brain really equaled behavior. One such example is the legend of the Dalai Lama, a Buddhist priest who rules the Tibetan people. It is believed that the soul of the original Dalai Lama is transfused into a new infant in every generation; this continues the ruling lineage. If this legend is really true, it stands to reason that the behavior of the leader is inherent at birth, rather than reactionary. In this sense, the brain would be an entirely separate entity from behavior, which is culpable and does not edify the inborn knowledge said to be possessed by the Dalai Lama. Another example in our own culture can be seen in the popular 1980s television show "Quantum Leap," which stars a character named Sam Beckett, a time-traveling scientist who traverses time and space and can be located by the brain waves he transmits when he invades a body. Although this is obviously science fiction, the show's popularity suggests that viewers were willing to accept this suggested explanation of a spirit controlling another brain, cultural evidence that the brain and behavior are not necessarily the one and the same.
I don't feel that I personally have enough information to make a definite decision on whether or not the brain=behavior. Until scientists can offer solid proof one way or the other, I prefer to take my cues from cultural beliefs, and hope that fact really does prove stranger than fiction.
Problem with relying on "culture" is, of course, that different cultures have different stories. Interesting idea - that "spirits" generally an explanation for the "inexplicable". Which would mean, as seems culturally to be so, that ideas and names are eliminated as what they are created to account for becomes more explicable? PG
The childlike and aggressive behavior may have arisen as a result of damage done to his neural circuits, preventing him from being able to temper the childlike and aggressive impulses coming from his limbic system. According to the brain equals behavior model, his sense of self must have changed after his accident. Everything we do affects our sense of self. In other words, Gage must have felt like a different person when he started exhibiting different behaviors. Sense of self and other similarly ambiguous concepts are the most difficult to explain by this model. They may be most usefully explored only through in depth questioning of the subjects involved.
Gage a good discussion point, as several of your colleagues have noted above. At the same time, its worth noting that not all neurobiologists then or now would impute Gage's personality changes to the brain damage he suffered. Arguably, he had a traumatic set of experiences and it was these, rather than the brain damage, which affected his personality? How would one choose between this and your explanation? PG
While I do put a lot of faith in scientific knowledge and (like Cedar) marvel at how cool all the scientific stuff that has gone on in the world is, I do not believe that science is either objective or infallible. The "proof" that science gives is informed by culture, as we can see by so much research in the past that has "proved," for example, that certain ethnic groups have lower IQ's than others. In actuality, science can only disprove things, so until we can say that everything else can be shown not to affect behavior, I don't think we can say that the brain *equals* behavior.
My attitude toward this is very much influenced by a book of I had when I was little. In it was a poem called "The Third Thing," which was about how we know that water is two molecules of hydrogen and one of oxygen, yet when they are combined, they make a completely new form. According to the poem, there had to be some "third thing" that made them do that, something that we didn't yet understand. So to me, there is this awesome alchemy of science that we can decipher (for example, every little interaction in the brain which causes behavior), but it's not quite simple enough to break down into equations (otherwise we would have figured out how to spontaneously create organisms). There's still something we don't quite get, and it's that third thing that makes science seem like magic sometimes. --moriah
Very much like the "third thing" as a touchstone idea. Yes indeed, that's the question. Is there a "third thing" for water? for behavior? And yes, of course, science is fallible/influenced by culture (is a human activity). Nor can it disprove existence, as you say. So, how does one proceed? What would or would not incline one to look for a "third thing", attribute explanatory value to it? Does it matter one way or another? PG
My main problem lies in the fact that I don't see the soul as an aspect of behavior at all. Maybe I am the only one who feels this way. Everything else we listed on the board as behavior I agreed with to some extent. But I don't think of the soul as an aspect of behavior; I see it as an influence on behavior. The soul seems to be associated with the processing aspect of the nervous system. It isn't a form of behavior, it drives behavior. As I see it, the soul influences whether I laugh or cry in response to an input(or pattern of inputs). It is the influence that drives altruism or cruelty.
If it influences the processing of inputs within the nervous system, does this mean that the "soul" is just a romantic way of thinking about an aspect of the nervous system? If so, then humans are just the sum total of their physical parts. This is hard to accept. It seems dehumanizing; I rebel against the idea because I don't see how it could account for all that I have seen and experienced. Some would disagree. Perhaps, by the end of the semester, I will have changed my mind. But for now I think life is too complex and mysterious to be pinned down so easily.
Clear, frank thoughts. Thanks. And yes, you've got the question well posed. "whether laugh or cry" for an input, altruism or cruelty, just "an aspect of the nervous system"? Question is, if it turned out that way, would it necessarily be dehumanizing? Maybe there is an underestimate of the richness that can come from interacting "physical parts"? We'll see. PG
Then, it follows that the United States constitution with its laws and regulation of human activities and interactions has no basis and is utterly unfair. How can these laws decide that certain behaviors are unacceptable and must be dealt with by punishment of the individual? Let's say an individual exterminates another individual. I argue that it is absurd to bring that individual to court and to prosecute him or her for the act of murder. Wasn't that act merely the output of an array of neurological functions in the brain, just as walking and sleeping are? Hence in this sense alone, and many more examples can be found, the stated assertion of the brain and behavior relationship is not consistent with our common experience of reality as it is.
Very important set of issues. Well posed. Question is: does it necessarily follow from brain=behavior that no one should be held accountable for their actions? Or is it possible that personal responsibility and value judgements (individual and social) still have meaning (perhaps even clearer meaning) if brain=behavior? PG
If there is not a soul we still should be accountable for what we do. There are thoughts and decisions that are made. If there is a soul, which I believe there is, then at which point does it interact with the brain, or does it at all? Is it a behaviour of mine to procrastinate and wait untill the last minute to write this paper? Do fetuses early in the pregnancy, when they do not have the enlarged neocortex, have a soul? Animals don't have a neocortex to the extent of ours and they likewise do not have souls. What am I saying? I'm saying that we don' t know but that we will eventualy. If we go to heaven/hell after death with our personality intact, and our personality is also dependent on our life and how our enviornment affects us which also affects the brain, then is the brain, behaviour, personality, and the soul different ways of looking at the same thing?
PS Sorry for all of the questions and spelling errors.
Yep, that's the question. Are they all the same thing? And yes, accountability should certainly remain. Think its possible to come up with a useful answer while still alive?PG
Actually, EVEN psychologists need to write well. Maybe even PARTICULARLY psychologists, so their insights can be more generally appreciated. Yep, question is whether motivation, drive, reason AND emotion can be made sense of in terms of all those boxes which make up the nervous system ... or whether one needs something else. PG
I'm not sure if the forum is a place for me...I got my chance to express my opinons on the brain and behavior when I was in this class:) But I want to enourage interested parties to come to the discussion section on thursdays at 7. The comments posted here are delicious food for thought and the discussion section is a place for digging in....so please drop by!
Comparative neuroanatomy a good approach to the problem. Might make a good starting point for a web report. PG
However, I do not believe that behavior will ever be fully explained by information gained from studying the brain. The brain is infinitely complex, and the knowlege gained in neurobiology and psychology will always be an incomplete picture. While these disiplines provide useful insights into behavior, many of the most fundamental aspects of human behavior remain unexplored. For example, consciousness is a fundamental aspect of human behavior that is so complex that it is difficult to define, let alone explore scientifically. I do not forsee a time in which neurobiologists and psychologists have explored every aspect of human behavior and discovered the biological processes responsible for it.
My position on on Prof. Grobstien's assertion is that while I agree that biological processes in the brain are responsible for behavior, some aspects of behavior are simply too complex to be understood in those terms.
I'm not inclined to disagree with you, but am curious about what you mean by "too complex" why you think some things are "too complex", and how one might otherwise go about exploring such things. I also think there are some more straightforward reasons why behavior will never "be fully explained by information gained from studying the brain". After all, its the brain doing the studying and changing itself in the process, so any "explanation" is necessarily incomplete. PG
Although I am convinced that the mind cannot exist without the brain, I am not ready to accept that the mind is synonymous with the brain, and indistinguishable from it, as Dr. Grobstein suggests. The brain is tangible. We do not fully understand its function, but we can analyze its structure down to its most minute components. We know what it's made of. But what is the mind made of? What are the building blocks of thoughts?
Everything that exists is either matter or energy. Which of these composes the mind? Thoughts exist, (at least I think they do) but they are neither matter nor energy. They are made by the material brain, which spends energy to produce them. Once formed, however, thoughts are no longer continuous with the cells and molecules that engender them. Thoughts arise from the brain, but then become distinct from their source, like tones that emanate from a musical instrument. We do not yet understand the composition of thoughts, and it is a mistake to assume it to be something familiar. After all, it is not long ago in human history that the transmission of sound through the air was as ineffable as the transmission of thought seems now. Perhaps it is because we lack an adequate description of thoughts that we constrain them to their describable source.
The mind arises from the body, but does the soul? We perceive and describe the soul using our brains, but do we give rise to it as we do our minds? Is it possible that the soul exists, and that it originates extrapersonally -- that it is not our own creation? If the soul is eternal even though the body (mind, personality, etc.) dies, perhaps an individual is not the source of his soul, but its custodian. This implies God. If God created Man, then it is possible that Man does not engender the soul, rather God invests it in him. If Man created God, then God is a product of the brain: all that constitutes an individual's identity, and all that religion supposes to transcend the individual, ceases to be without the brain.
Crisply and eloquently posed set of issues. Thanks. How about if thoughts are at first "patterns of activity" in neurons? These aren't strictly speaking either matter or energy, but rather information, which is to say they are particular organizations of matter/energy whose significance derives not from the particular matter or energy of which they are made but rather its organization. And indeed, they are to some extent subsequently divorceable from their original instantiations, in the sense that they can be recoded into forms whereby they can be transmitted from brain to brain? That sufficiently ineffable to satisfy you? PGSerendip © by Serendip 1994- - Last Modified: Wednesday, 02-May-2018 10:52:56 CDT